1985 happened 30 years ago and so did I. Now I’m watching all of the movies from the year of my birth. That’s right, all of them.
Release Date: April 3, 1985 (Hong Kong)
Cast: Donnie Yen, Yuen Woo-ping, Wan-si Wong, Mandy Chan, May Lo Mei-Mei
Writer(s): Peace Group, Chiu Jing-Hong, Jeng Man-Wa
Synopsis: A young breakdancer takes in a homeless old opera singer and gets into a series of romantic and violent misunderstandings.
Review: A 22-year-old Donnie Yen will make you feel like you’ve wasted every ounce of potential in your soft, feeble body within the first five seconds of Mismatched Couples. Yuen Woo-ping (legendary action choreography and director) has him enter the film dancing down the street, not unlike Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. The key difference is Donnie Yen’s surreal acrobatic skill, here blending martial arts with 80s b-boy and break dancing moves. He even mimes Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp moments before doing backflips off the roof of a car. As a statement of purpose, it’s stunningly clear: with respect to Chaplin and Keaton, we’re about to do a 360° head-spin on your graves.
Like Chaplin’s films, there’s rarely a moment where something isn’t happening. Almost every character is in a state of perpetual motion, whether they’re shaving the bark off of a stalk of sugar cane or using that sugar cane as a staff to perform some impromptu martial arts for a white tourist. As impressive as Yen is, he’s a young man—and it should be said, a specimen—so while Woo-ping isn’t able to kick his leg completely over his own head or play tennis with a BMX bike (more on that in a moment), he’s the more impressive performer overall. Woo-ping was already 40 at the time of filming, but he throws himself into the comic relief role of Mini with complete abandon and absolutely no vanity. His character scrounges for pieces of food that have fallen on the ground and barks like a dog when asked. The entire range of his skill is on display, from trying his own hand at break dancing to pretending to be a table (you heard me). And while his comedy is broad to the point of being grotesque (he was an ugly, ugly man at this age), his ability to perform with every inch of his body overrides any tastelessness.
On top of that, Woo-ping is also a really skilled comedic director, keeping the characters’ frantic—sometimes spastic—motions within the frame feeling anarchic rather than chaotic. Even in the most cluttered scenes, like one that takes place in a a dance club with dozens of extras, he’s in control of the action. What’s most interesting about this particular scene is that its both well crafted, with a good sense of space and geography AND he’s putting all of these skills to use to build up a gag where Yen gets diarrhea. It’s the movie in a nutshell: mountains of insane technical skill used to tell a poop joke.
It should be said, this was only Yen’s second film (his first, Drunken Tai Chi was also directed by Woo-ping) and his peak as a performer was still to be achieved. That said, this is an exhausting piece of work that asks a lot of Yen, all of which he effortlessly gives. Need him to put on his clothes while dancing with the rapidity of a humming bird’s heart? Done! Need him to engage in some traditional comedic Hong Kong action scenes? Done! Need him to play tennis with a BMX bike? Which is to say, do you need him to will a bike three feet off of the ground and return a serve by hitting the ball with the front tire?
The only catch is this: this is a broad farce and that’s certainly not for everyone. However, if you’re a fan of 80s breakdancing movies, this is one of the best. Basically, this is the perfect movie to watch in a bar with the sound off. You’ll never get lost with what’s happening and you’ll have a great fucking time.
Better Off Dead or The Sure Thing: The sure thing.
Next Up: Godzilla 1985: The Legend Is Reborn